Thursday, July 31, 2014

Looking Back to Start Strong

Tomorrow is August 1, I have one more week of summer...

I didn't need a calendar to tell me we were getting close to the beginning of this next school year. The last few nights, my dreams have been full of lesson planning, teaching, and grading. I have much to look forward to but first I must look back and see what worked and what didn't. I need to understand where I have been to know where I am going.

Inspired by a fellow teacher-blogger,, I want to look WAY back to 1996 when I first started teaching and write a letter to myself:

I know you didn't sleep much last night.

Today, you will be running on a combination of adrenaline, caffeine, and what little food you can keep down. And, while this job won't necessarily get easier, you will rise to meet the daily challenges. For now, eat a little breakfast, make a big go-mug of coffee, pack a nice lunch, and put on that killer outfit that even middle school girls will approve of. You are ready for this!

You have a full load but you can handle it. After you drop your little munchkin off at day care, you get to your classroom early. It is beautiful: motivational, colorful, and informational. The rules are posted clearly, the books are ready to hand out, your grade book is set up, and the lesson plans are well designed for the first two units.

Now. I hate to tell you this. Those plans? Well, they are a beautiful start but be ready to throw them out the window. They might not work. The kids might not get it. You may have to start over again. You will learn to roll with the kids and their learning. Some days, you won't plan enough for them to do. Most days, you will have too much for them to finish in class and you will have to find ways to motivate them to finish the activities at home or juggle future lessons to give them time in class. Once in a while, they will finish them right as the bell rings. You will learn what works, what doesn't. Be patient with yourself. You are learning along side the kids.

What is amazing is that the kids won't care. They do care about how you make them feel. Don't be afraid to do crazy things to inspire them. Let them into your heart and they will let you into theirs. Watch their faces and body language and you will figure out who is "getting it" and who might need more time. Remember you are teaching kids some science, don't just teach science to kids.

Oh. Another thing. For the first several months or so, you may dream about school a lot. You will dream about the students, the other teachers, what you need to do, and what you forgot to do. This won't go on forever. You are getting used to this new life and it is intense at times. Take a deep breath and roll with it.

Speaking of breath. At the end of every day, take a little time and do some yoga. Even if it is only 10 or 15 minutes, you will benefit from it greatly. It will help you release the day to itself and move into family time.

Don't try to grade everything the students do. You will find yourself hauling stuff back and forth to school each night. Some of it will get graded, some of it won't. It is ok. You will learn what is important and what you can let go. You will get better at prioritizing things.

Summer. Summer is great. Spend it with your kids. Do things you can't do during the school year: hang out in your hammock, watch sunsets from the swing-set, and go for lots of walks, hikes, and bike rides. Enjoy the garden but don't let it control you -- the weeds will wait.

Finally, trust yourself. This is what you were meant to do. You do it well. Learn from the bad days then let them go. Cherish the good days. Get a big box to save nice notes that your students write to you. Drink coffee. Wear Danskos and Birkenstocks (your feet will thank you). Laugh!!

Watch what you say.
Don't take things personally.
Do your best.
Don't assume anything.

Love ya - me

Thursday, July 3, 2014


As a teacher, I love summer more than most people. That is not to say that I tend to do anything special or consistently engaging. Some summers are filled with camping, hiking, backpacking, and travel. Others are focused on gardening and yard work. And some, like this year, involve spending a lot of money fixing myself and my house.

What's up with me now? Bilateral Plantar Fasciitis that I have been dealing with for almost two years. I am finally dedicating myself to getting my feet better: Physical Therapy, twice daily exercises, lots of stretching, orthotics and birkenstocks, athletic tape, and no going barefoot. I am slowly seeing improvement but I wonder if I will ever be able to wear cute shoes again :(

Next, the house. Ripping up carpet, replacing trim, painting, laying flooring, fixing storm windows, and donating a lot of stuff me and the fam no longer need. It feels so good to lighten the load. Plus, I am very cheap labor. I may not be as highly skilled in carpentry and flooring but I can take my time and do a good job. What is the quote? 
"Good, fast, cheap: pick any two.
  • You can have good and fast, but it won’t be cheap.
  • You can have good and cheap, but it won’t be fast.
  • You can have fast and cheap, but it won’t be good."    Erwind Frand
All of these very necessary changes come as my oldest gets ready to head off to college -- something that will leave me as a tearful pile of goo in August, right as school is getting started. So how do I plan for that emotional train wreck?

In the next few weeks, I will create order from all this chaos and start planning. Most people don't know this but me and many other teachers out there plan, write, and work on next year's curriculum for several weeks before school starts. No I don't get paid but this time is essential in keeping my sanity, especially during DEVOLSON (, that dreadful time between Labor Day and Thanksgiving...

So, for now, I take a deep breath, work with my hands, and give my brain a break. All too soon, I will be neck deep in kids, parents, and grading.